Senior Spotlight: Caroline Bolen Heads to CSU Monterey to Study Environmental Science

During 2021’s Summer Research Program, Rosa Nelson ’23 (left) and Caroline Bolen (right) studied the rate at which coastal urban wetlands in Contra Costa County captured and stored carbon below ground in sediments, and the potential of these ecosystems to mitigate pollution in the form of toxic heavy metals.Biology major Caroline Bolen ’22 will be attending CSU Monterey Bay’s Professional Science Master’s program in Environmental Science in the fall. She hopes to become a wildlife biologist for a conservation organization or government agency in California. She credits her work with SMC’s Summer Research Program for helping her develop her passion for all things environmental. We asked her to share some of her SMC experiences with us.

Tell us about a class or activity that was special for you.

In 2021, I was fortunate enough to participate in the Summer Research Program [SRP] put on by the School of Science. To my surprise, I was paired with Dr. Nekesha Williams, who is a professor in the EES Department. Her background is in Environmental and Marine Science, neither of which I had any previous experience in. Together we developed a research project entitled Quantifying Blue Carbon Stored in Bay Point Regional Shoreline. This project included extensive field, lab, and analytical work, all of which made me a stronger scientist and candidate for grad school. Most importantly, this work introduced me to the environmental side of biology, which is what made me decide to pursue a master’s degree in environmental science and a career in ecology. Dr. Williams’s guidance and support proved to be invaluable to me in regard to both SRP and my grad school application journey. I also had the privilege of working alongside Rosa Nelson all summer, who was the best research partner I could have asked for. 

What brought you to SMC? 

I grew up in Lafayette riding my bike on the trails to Saint Mary’s. My dad is a Saint Mary’s alumni, so he would take me and my sister on bike tours of the campus in the summer. Thanks to my familiarity with the campus, Saint Mary’s was high on my list when I was ready to transfer out of Diablo Valley College. Associate Dean of Transfer Admissions Craig Means told me about the research opportunities for science students and the personalized learning experience students receive from the professors due to the small class sizes. The idea of learning from professors that care about my progress along with the thought of living on such a beautiful campus cemented my decision to attend Saint Mary’s. 

What has surprised you most about your studies at SMC over the years? 

I was surprised by how well-connected I remained to the school, my peers, and my professors while we were online. My professors did a fantastic job of keeping me and my classmates engaged in the lectures and course material despite having no time to prepare for the switch to online learning. I could tell how much effort they were putting into keeping their classes going, which inspired me to continue to try my best to succeed. 

Where are you headed next? 

Thanks to encouragement from Dr. Williams, my SRP mentor, and Dr. Rebecca Jabbour, my advisor, I decided to pursue a graduate degree. My long-term goal is to become an ecologist for a conservation-oriented organization or government agency, so I applied to master’s programs that would get me closer to that goal. I decided to attend CSU Monterey Bay’s Professional Science Master’s (PSM) program in Environmental Science starting this fall. It is a two-year program that includes classwork and a professional internship of my choosing. I can’t wait to start and am looking forward to the many opportunities it will bring.

Learn more about the Summer Research Program Bolen and Nelson took part in here.